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Edward B. Shils Lecture in Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution

Dennis Ross believes in President Bush’s concept of a “road map” to Middle East peace. It’s the details and execution that concern him.

Ambassador Ross, top Middle East negotiator to Bush’s father and President Clinton, restrained his enthusiasm for current U.S. efforts to broker a peace settlement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Speaking to a large audience days after the war in Iraq began, Ross said the road map, a document that lists conditions for a peace agreement, falls short in several areas.

Ross faults the plan for failing to set equivalent goals for all parties. For example, he said, the Bush administration calls for a Palestinian state without placing similar pressure on the Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel is told to relinquish control and dismantle settlements built without government approval, Ross said, but the Palestinians are not required to renounce violence. And the road map asks nothing of Arab countries, he said.

“The Arabs need to step up to the plate,” said Ross, who is Director and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They can’t be the only ones who don’t have a responsibility.”

He said the Arabs must support Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian prime minister, demonstrate that they, too, want peace with Israel, and condemn terrorist groups such as Hamas. Alluding to it as a breathtaking instance of irony and capitulation to terrorists, Ross said on the same day that The Arab League approved an initiative to normalize relations with Israel, Hamas took credit for an attack in Israel on the first night of Passover that killed 29 people. Ross said no Arab leader raised a voice to criticize Hamas.

Ross talks with Edward B. Shils W’36, G’37, GR’40, L’86, GL’90, GRL’97, George W. Taylor Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurial Management
Given his reservations, is peace a pipedream? Not at all, said Ross, who remains the eternal optimist. “Believe it or not, I am not hopeless,” Ross said.

Ross cited realities that create conditions for peace: Israel’s free-falling economy, overburdened by the psychic and material cost of occupation, and the rise of a reform movement among Palestinians who wish to forsake violence as a policy tool.

“The Israelis cannot wish the Palestinians away, and the Palestinians cannot wish the Israelis away,” Ross continued. “They are going to have to find a way to live together, because they’ve seen from the last two-and-a-half years the consequence of living not with peaceful coexistence but with constant warfare.”

Step one is diplomacy, Ross said. “The Israelis and the Palestinians have to start talking to each other again, at higher levels,” Ross remarked. “The critical challenge of mediation now is to begin to find those common points of understanding that reestablish believability in peacemaking … You begin to change the climate.”

As Ross noted, peace depends on stability in the region – and that includes Iraq. Just days after the U.S. invasion Ross anticipated victory and offered a plan to rebuild Iraq: create a representative, broad-based government; establish an international peacekeeping operation; support reformers.

“We cannot remove Saddam Hussein and create a seismic change in the region and then treat life there as business as usual,” said Ross, adding that the U.S. must also restrain Syria from supporting terrorists and Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction.

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